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Red eyes (bloodshot eyes) are a common condition characterized by abnormal reddening of the eyes.
The condition is painless and occurs due to swollen blood vessels near the surface of the eye. Most people experience red eyes from time to time.
However, red eyes should concern you if accompanied by eye pain, impaired vision, watering eyes, or a feeling of dryness in the eyes.
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Here are some causes of red eyes and how to prevent and treat them:
Dry eye syndrome refers to the inability of the eyes to produce adequate fluids (tears) to lubricate them.1
This condition may result from hormonal changes, underlying conditions, and certain medications such as antihistamines, birth control pills, and some painkillers.
An ophthalmologist may do tests to see whether a medical problem is the cause of your dry eyes.
Over-the-counter medicines such as artificial tears, gels, or ointments, may be beneficial in mild cases.
Depending on the severity of the condition, other treatments may include prescription eye drops and surgery.
You can also consider the lifestyle tips below:
Trauma to the eye can also cause redness. Something as simple as accidentally scratching your eye with a sharp fingernail can cause an eye injury.
Other causes of eye injuries include:
When you hurt your eye, the blood vessels inside it expand and dilate. The dilated blood cells send blood and cells to the injured area to help restore it.
Developing a red eye as a result of an injury is also a warning that something is wrong with your eye.
The symptoms include:
Millions of Americans suffer from eye allergies, a condition also known as allergic conjunctivitis (pink eye). Mold, pollen, and pet dander are the most common airborne allergens.
Eye allergies may also be induced by reactions to certain cosmetics or eye drops containing allergy-causing ingredients.
When exposed to these allergens, cells in your eyes known as mast cells are triggered to release histamine and other substances that can result in inflammation:
The symptoms include:
A stye (sty) is a tender lump or swelling along the lash line, close to the border of your eyelid.3
An internal stye, also known as a hordeolum, is a stye that develops on the inside of your eyelid.
Eyelid styes indicate bacterial infection and blockage of the eyelid oil glands.
While an internal or inner stye is less frequent than an external stye that occurs on the outer rim of the eyelid, both may result in complications due to its proximity to the eye.
This common eye infection typically clears up on its own. However, severe cases may require immediate medical attention.
A style normally lasts 3 to 7 days but can persist up to a few weeks. Some home remedies to treat your stye include:
Although most styes heal up quickly, don't be afraid to see your eye specialist for more advice. To help it heal quicker, your health care provider may prescribe an ointment or a medication.
Sunburned eyes or photokeratitis is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.
This condition is characterized by inflammation of the cornea (the clear front covering of your eye).
Overexposure to UV rays for extended periods can further lead to serious conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or eyelid cancer.
Photokeratitis typically goes away on its own in one to two days. Treatment for this disease usually focuses on alleviating symptoms so you may feel more at ease.
Your doctor may prescribe pain relievers or antibiotic eye drops
Home remedies include:
Eye surgeries such as LASIK can cause red eyes.4 This is because the procedure involves shifting, cutting, and shaping different components of your eyes (nerves, blood vessels, and cornea).
Although this will not impact your vision, the procedure may lead to temporary dry eyes or inflammation that may subside after a while.5
Red eyes after eye surgery should not cause panic as it's part of the recovery process.
However, the following treatments can help alleviate the symptoms:
Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders that damage the optic nerve, which is necessary for good vision.
This impairment is often caused by very high ocular pressure.
For individuals over the age of 60, glaucoma is one of the main causes of blindness.
Most therapies for glaucoma reduce intraocular pressure (IOP), which may be accomplished through:7
Endophthalmitis is a serious eye problem caused by infection of the fluids or tissues of the eyeball. If not treated quickly, it can lead to blindness.
Symptoms often appear after a few days following the eye infection. Acute endophthalmitis is diagnosed when symptoms appear suddenly.
A slow progression of symptoms indicates chronic endophthalmitis. This occurs when certain bacteria or fungi invade the eye.
Regular and long-term cigarette smokers may experience red eyes due to smoke irritation.
This is worse for those who wear contact lenses because smoking contributes to dry eyes.
Smoking marijuana can also cause red eyes. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive endocannabinoid ingredient in marijuana, tends to increase blood pressure.
Blood vessels and capillaries in the eyes dilate due to increased blood flow, resulting in bloodshot eyes.9
Red eyes from smoking marijuana often normalize after the effects wear off.
If red eyes are induced by irritation from cigarette smoke, the following remedies can help:
Tired eyes are often bloodshot. This is because a lack of rest may reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches your eyes, causing blood vessels to dilate.
As a result, the eyes develop a reddish appearance.
The best treatment for red eyes due to exhaustion is rest. Other options to consider include:
Most cases of red eyes improve with home remedies. However, if the symptoms persist, it may indicate a medical emergency.
See your doctor immediately if your red eye is accompanied by:
There are various professional and home-based regimens for red eyes:
Professional treatments for red eyes include:
The best over-the-counter drops for red eyes include:
Although redness relief drops are effective at clearing your eyes up, they do not resolve the condition causing the redness.
Additionally, they should be used conservatively since they constrict the blood vessels in your eye and are not ideal for your eye health if used regularly. It’s best to consult your eye doctor to receive proper treatment for your condition.
Home treatments for red eyes include:
Here are some tips for preventing bloodshot eyes:
“Dry Eye Syndrome,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), July 2011
“The Role of Medications in Causing Dry Eye,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI),31 August 2020
“Styes,” Department of Health, State Government of Victoria, Australia
“LASIK surgery: Is it right for you?,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER)
“What Is Dry Eye?,” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 15 September 2021
“Eye Drops,” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 31 July 2018
“New Medical Therapies Offer Hope for Glaucoma Patients,” Glaucoma Research Foundation, 06 March 2018
“What Is Vitrectomy?,” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 22 April 2020
“It’s Not the Smoke from a Joint That Makes Your Eyes Red,” McGill University, 12 July 2018